Friday, August 24, 2012
Lawrence resident Larry Welch has wanted to write a book about the KBI for a long time — long before he was appointed director of it in 1994.
“It always puzzled me that here was this agency that had done some remarkable things and no one had ever written a history of it,” he says. “In 1989, on their 50th anniversary, the KBI wrote an internal document, but it was never publicly disseminated.”
Now, thanks to Welch, the public can get a glimpse inside the 73-year-old agency with the publication of his new book, “Beyond Cold Blood: The KBI from Ma Barker to BTK” (University of Kansas Press, 2012, to be released in September). “It isn’t a memoir, or even meant to be ‘the’ history of the KBI,” Welch says. “It’s a history of it.”
Welch tells the story through a series of investigations the KBI has been involved with over the years, including the titular case made famous by Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”
“How can you tell the history of the KBI without the Clutter case?” he says about the investigation that receives more media and research inquiries than all other KBI investigations combined.
Another incident Welch knew he had to include was the KBI case involving five escaped prisoners who, in 1941, dug their way out of the state penitentiary in Lansing.
Then-Attorney General Jay Parker asked the KBI to capture and return them to prison. While three were apprehended relatively easily, two eluded authorities for months.
When KBI special agent Joe Anderson went undercover and infiltrated the fugitives’ hideout, he learned of their plan to rob a bank in Macksville and alerted his colleagues. When the felons pulled up to the bank in their stolen Ford, KBI officials were ready, and a shootout ensued. The escaped prisoners were killed at the scene.
This incident was the first major test for the young agency that, Welch says, “sealed its future” as praise poured in from across the state and nation.
Welch has a personal connection to the case as his mentor, the then-sheriff of Stafford County Logan Sanford, who would later direct the KBI, stood alongside the KBI agents during the shootout. Also in the crowd was Shirley Barnes, a little girl who would become Welch’s high school sweetheart and his wife of 56 years.
Welch’s favorite case in the book involves the 1971 disappearance of 78-year-old Goldie Millar from her Kiowa County ranch. “Pyle is an important case,” Welch says. “More people need to know about it.”
The case is significant because, although her body was never found, local prosecutors, with the help of KBI agents, were able to gather sufficient evidence to convince a jury that her grandson, Mike Pyle, murdered her and burned down her house. The conviction was later upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court.
“Shirley will tell you that whenever we are watching a police crime show and someone says something about not being able to prosecute without a body, I start yelling about the Pyle case,” he says. “This is the case people cite when attempting to prosecute without a body.”
Another case Welch writes about involved the 1969 conviction of two women for armed robbery. The judge who oversaw the trial had an “uneasy feeling” about the evidence and asked the KBI to investigate after new information emerged. They did, and the women were released.
“The KBI isn’t always about convicting people,” Welch says. “Sometimes we help prove someone is innocent.
“Basically, that is how it works. The KBI goes where they are needed.”
And as director, Welch sent them where they were needed: to Costa Rica following the 2001 murder of KU student Shannon Martin; to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana in 2005; and to the numerous Kansas towns devastated by methamphetamines.
Welch retired from the KBI in 2007, which was when he got serious about his manuscript. He says that he is most proud of the fact that he wrote the book for everyone.
“The crimes that I describe in this book are obscenities, especially the homicides,” he says, “but I wrote the book so my grandmother could read it, so high school history classes could read it.”